See London like a local
It’s fairly easy to tell from my posts that I’m a list-making and travel nerd. As much as I would love to take the romantic approach of eschewing plans, schedules and guidebooks, it’s very much not my style and likely never will be.
However, one place it’s impossible to keep up the pace of frenzied sightseeing is in your hometown. So for those of you keener to understand how locals live than to tick off key tourist sights in gruelling action-packed days, I present you with ‘How To London’.
So if you’ve been to London several times and seen all the big ticket items, are making the city your new home or you’re one of those inexplicably relaxed travellers who can go somewhere and just ‘hang out’, then I’m sure you’ll find something you like in this post. And no, it’s not all about where to eat fish and chips or visit a pub (I hate pubs) like many ‘London as a local’ type posts I’ve come across- this is genuinely what we get up to in our spare time.
It’s biased towards East London because that’s where I live and lesson number 1 for London locals is that you stick to your patch, because going anywhere always takes an hour and we generally like to stick to our own postcodes.
Really the most London thing I can think of is to go out to eat. I’ve already written a couple of foodie style posts, one on Shoreditch and one of my top overlooked London restaurants, so I won’t repeat what’s there, but for me this really is the number 1 London activity.
You can tell Londoners like to eat because there are literally thousands of restaurants (I’ve just checked on Tripadvisor and there are currently reviews of 18,289 restaurants, and that won’t include all the street vendors) and I still can’t get a reservation for my favourite restaurants most weekends.
Londoners like to eat from all parts of the spectrum, from impossibly expensive (we’ve got 58 one Michelin star restaurants, 9 two stars and 3 with the coveted three stars), cheap / hip places, gastro pubs and good old fashioned street food. Anyone visiting would be wise to emulate this. Get a reservation for somewhere amazing, lunch and brunch at some hip and unusual places, take advantage of the fact you can sample cuisine from every corner of the earth and make sure you grab some food on the go. I’ve added some suggestions in the sample itinerary below, but check out my walking tour picks and overlooked London restaurants for more ideas.
We love a market and open air markets in London are as popular as they’ve ever been. Most will sell a combination of flowers, clothes, jewellery and food, but we’re mostly in it for the food. However, there are plenty of places for locally produced items and artists selling their wares if you like to shop- I especially like Backyard Market just off of Brick Lane because there’s a nice range of slightly unusual items on offer.
Everyone’s heard about Borough Market, but that’s no reason to steer clear, as the market and its surrounding restaurants offer some great food and it’s a spot frequented by both Londoners and tourists alike. But for great food options you should also consider Spitalfields Market, Maltby Street Market and Broadway Market to name just a few.
Ate too much? I have the perfect solution. In common with cities everywhere, not a month goes by without a new fitness concept launching. And boy do Londoners like a new fitness concept. There are loads of places where you can pay for individual classes, so why not start your weekend in London with a barre class? Maybe you prefer boxing? A good shout is Frame, which holds all sorts of classes from dance to yoga to resistance work outs. They now have branches in Kings Cross, Shoreditch, Victoria and Queen’s Park – keep your eyes out for their two hour weekend workshops which include Beyonce, Britney and Michael Jackson dance classes.
Another recent addition to the London scene is Kobox, with locations in Chelsea and the City of London. They specialise in high intensity boxing-based work outs in a setting a bit like a nightclub. What’s not to like? For spinning fans, Boom Cycle and Psycle also offer intense classes in a nightclub environment.
If you want to exercise while seeing more of the city, then running and cycling are both good options and Londoners enjoy both. I especially like a weekend run through the City of London as it’s deserted and there’s some great architecture to check out.
Weird trendy stuff you heard about from someone at work
Londoners love anything new and a bit off the wall. Fancy brunch in a giant adult ball pit? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Don’t believe me? Check out Ballie Ballerson.
Brits have always liked playing darts down the pub, but it’s had a revamp in the form of Flight Club, a social darts experience where you book an ‘oche’ for your group then play a series of competitive games. The dart boards keep score automatically so there’s no losing track (especially once you’ve had a few) and there are bar snacks on offer too.
Another unique pastime which Londoners have been enjoying for a few years is the morning rave. There’s no alcohol but there are smoothies and usually some yoga and glitter. You can have it large from 5am to 9am then head to work energised for the day ahead. Morning Gloryville puts on events across the capital and the UK.
We spend all week commuting on the tube and it’s hellish. London is extremely walkable and that’s when you’ll come across hidden gem galleries, cafes and street art. It’s free and Londoners will try to avoid the tube for short distances, so bring some comfy shoes (Londoners live in trainers- pick up some cool ones at Sneakers and Stuff in Hoxton) and join in.
Museums and galleries (the ones the tourists aren’t at)
It’s probably going overboard to say Londoners don’t go to Museums or galleries, but it’s rare that I would visit one of the major draws at the weekend. Partly because I’ve been so many times and partly because it involves me venturing to central London, which is busy and stressful.
However, Londoners love anything that’s new, quirky or difficult to get tickets for. If you’re heading to London you should definitely still check out the major ticketed exhibitions happening at the major museums and galleries, the National Gallery in particular has had some great shows over the last few years and there’s almost always something terribly exciting happening at the Royal Academy.
But big galleries aside, make sure you check out the Barbican and the Southbank Centre for art and photography exhibitions as well as concerts and plays. This is where Londoners soak up some culture at the weekends.
We also like some edgier, hidden gems like Denis Severs’ House, the Geffrye Museum, the Sir John Soane Museum or Dr Johnson’s House (yeah, that ‘tired of London…’ guy). All are great experiences, giving you a real insight to London’s history and how people lived, and some of its more interesting inhabitants. For really special experience, get in the queue for the Soane museum’s evening tours which happen one day a month (it used to be Thursday but keep an eye on their website for news of when this will start up again as the format is currently under review). Another Londoner favourite is Friday night ‘lates’ at the Victoria & Albert Museum. Londoners are far too busy and cool for daytime museum viewing, V&A Lates are free, interactive and involve all things contemporary visual culture.
British people love sport and Londoner are no different. We’re super lucky to have an Olympic legacy which is still alive five years after the Games and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park still regularly plays host to all manner of events from athletics and track cycling to hockey and diving.
It’s definitely worth checking what’s happening and getting tickets if your visit coincides with an event. Next up in October 2017 is the World Taekwondo Grand Prix. The atmosphere is always amazing as there’s always a good turnout for events and Brits love an underdog (probably because it’s often us) so be prepared to cheer the winner, every single British person, and the guy getting lapped, because he’ll be the one with the standing ovation.
The ‘how to London’ 48 hour itinerary
So, don’t know where to start with those suggestions? Don’t worry, I’ve done it for you. My travel nerd list-making ways cannot be supressed.
Arrive in London on the last Friday of the month and head straight for the V&A Friday Late (6:30pm -10pm)
Head into central London to get a glimpse of Soho nightlife (we do go there sometimes). There are loads of great places to choose from and I especially recommend contemporary Korean cuisine at Jinjuu or some Michelin star Peruvian cuisine at Lima . If you want some that feels a bit more British then try Social Eating House or Berners Tavern (you’ll need a reservation for all of those). If you’re an avid instagrammer then nearby Bob Bob Ricard is the place with the ‘press for champagne’ button and Sketch has a whole host of wacky rooms (especially the toilets) which is also just around the corner and a bit of a London institution.
Hop on the tube or the bus to your accommodation. For some oldy worldy London charm while in the city, why not stay in one of its few remaining Georgian houses? The Rookery in Clerkenwell is well situated for exploring both East and Central London and close to major rail stations King Cross / St Pancras and Euston. Built in 1764 it’s now a boutique hotel.
Start with a gym class. Head to Frame in Shoreditch for an early gym class to wake you up and get you moving (there are classes from 9am on both Saturdays and Sundays).
Wander across to Brick Lane, starting from the top by recharging yourself with a smoked salmon or salt beef beigel from Beigel Bake (not the other one- Londoners take sides and you now favour Beige Bake over Beigel Shop).
Head down Brick Lane and check out the shops and markets on the way. Make sure you stop at Backyard Market to see some local arts and crafts for sale. I love local collage artist Adrian Boswell who has a shop on the corner of the entrance to Backyard Market, so pop in and buy some prints and postcards.
Keep walking and have a mooch around Spitalfields Market and don’t forget to eat whatever smells good. Head for a tour of Denis Severs’ House, an immersive museum experience in a house kitted out as it would have been when a Georgian family lived there in the 18th century.
For the best foodie market in London you’re going to head South of the river to Borough Market. Pop into the Whitechapel Art Gallery as you pass. As a bonus if you walk this whole route you get to pass the Tower of London and cross Tower Bridge. Even locals take photos of these landmarks, so feel free. But make sure you’re taking atmospheric instagram shots and not tourist selfies.
Explore Borough Market to see what’s on offer. Londoners love Borough Market even though it’s packed (including with tourists). As a Londoner who’s spoilt for choice on the food front I like to think of lunch as a fluid concept covering several small snacks from 11am to 4pm, so feel free to grab another small meal. If you fancy a bigger meal then there is excellent pasta at Padella and the best tapas in town at Lobos.
Head back across the river to Dr Johnson’s House for a fascinating insight into the life of Samuel Johnson, the English writer. After all, it was he who claimed, ‘when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.’
Head back to the hotel for some much needed rest before the night ahead. No UK or London Saturday night would be complete without Indian food- it’s our national dish. Dishoom is a London favourite but you can’t make a reservation for dinner if there are less than 6 of you, so go early and try your luck. If it doesn’t work out then head down Brick Lane and onto Hanbury Street for South Indian food from Dosa World or to Tayyabs in Whitechapel for Punjabi cuisine. Those are both cheap options and not exactly ‘smart’ but if you want the London experience then a cheap curry should be on your list.
If you still have energy left, then nightclubs Fabric and XOYO are near to the Rookery, affording you a short stagger home. If you’re not the partying kind and fancy a lower key evening, then book an oche at Flight Club for a darts match with your mates and a few pints.
Start with a leisurely brunch at Duck and Waffle, with sweeping views over the City and the rest of London. You could also try it after your Saturday night clubbing session as it’s open 24 hours!
Get some fresh air with an early morning walk through the City to soak up some sights. It will be utterly deserted on a Sunday morning so you can marvel at the beautiful architecture in peace and quite and have plenty of time to stop and soak it all in.
The East and the City are really great areas for sightseeing and food. I’m a big fan of the City because it’s the site of the original city of London and boasts everything from Roman to Medieval ruins and Wren churches. It’s not well visited by tourists and seems to be of more interest to Londoners really trying to get to grips with the history of their city. If you fancy fitting in a few more sites then you can pick something from my list of 30 things to do in the City in your lunchbreak.
Wander up to Bunhill Fields, a burial ground established in the late 17th century and used until the middle of the 19th century. Around 2,000 monuments remain on the side which is now managed as a public garden. Several notable figures are interred here including William Blake and John Bunyan.
Check out Charterhouse, a complex of 14th century buildings which began life as a Carthusian priory in 1371 and was dissolved in 1537 under Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries. It later functioned as both alms house and school, with the school moving to Surrey in 1872, where it still survives. You can visit for free from Thursday to Sunday from 11am with last admission at 4:45pm. You can also book 1 hour tours for £10.
Enjoy a late lunch of a proper Sunday roast at the Jugged Hare, a gastropub specialising in game. There’s an old fashioned pub at the front and the restaurant in the back. They serve all manner of game, season dependent and spit roast meats. The jugged hare (hare cooked in it’s own blood) is delicious, just try not to think too much about what you’re eating.
After a late leisurely lunch, you’ll be just in time to wander around the Barbican Centre to check an exhibition and get tickets to see the London Symphony Orchestra play.
And that’s it! A perhaps exaggerated but still fairly faithful Londoner weekend.